The Burlesque World:Ya-Ya Sisterhood or Mean Girls?

Funny how as soon as someone goes against the grain or the flow of things, they get ostracized out their ‘community’.  I have come across a few individuals who have experienced this in many arenas, including burlesque.  So I decided to discover why this is…

I have been on this ‘journey’ to see how burlesque has affected individuals and their world and why certain beliefs are excluded.  But more importantly, how the world and society has affected burlesque.  I have interviewed some interesting performers and have come to the conclusion that the burlesque ‘community’ varies from city to city.  I have heard negative and positive about burlesque in major burlesque cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York and I believe all of it to be true.  Every city has their ‘bad seeds’ and every city has their ‘good eggs’.  But I think what I have learned is this-Burlesque is just as caddy as any other female organized profession or group.  This is taught at a young age and continues through out our adults lives.  And that’s ok…it’s not bad or good.  It is what it is.  You, as a person and individual, have to decide if your career is going to be part of that drama.

I know many will not agree with my blog, but it is MY blog.  So it’s my thoughts and experiences and information compiled from my interviews I have done.  I try not to make assumptions, because you know what that does (in case you don’t-It makes an ASS out of YOU and ME!).  I like research and defined information.  I don’t like rumors, gossip, or sophomoric drama.  And I TRY MY BEST to stay out of it.  But like everyone else, I am human.  I make mistakes.  I get mixed up in the drama of it all.  What makes a difference is when we can own up to our mistakes, to our drama, and to our hurtful actions.  Being a bitch will get you no where!


There are individuals I have talked to that don’t think there is anything ‘wrong’ with the burlesque world.  Then again, I spoke to those who think it excludes those that don’t follow the ‘set standards’ of what burlesque is SUPPOSE to be (a white, not TOO curvaceous, minimal dance, ‘straight-looking/acting, glamour or rockabilly woman).  I have been in both world of thinking and agree with both concepts to an extent.

Many will say that burlesque is a family, community based ‘organization’.  From what I gather, it depends on the city you are in.  Then again, it depends on the sector of burlesque you happen to be in (queer, rockabilly, glamour…).  It appears that the support is very prevalent within those certain categories.  Not so much when it’s combined.  For instance…some of the statements I have heard are-

“I have been turned away because I was told I was too fat…but I have been an accomplished burlesque performer with great training for years.”

“Because I am not considered burlesque by the local burlesque celebrities, I have not been able to get booked.”

” ‘Mainstream’ burlesque performers RARELY come to queer burlesque events because in their eyes it’s not true burlesque.  It’s just stage art.”

“I have always wanted to perform burlesque, but have been told to ‘change my look’ before trying.”

On the flip side, I have also heard the following-

“I love burlesque! It’s a real sisterhood.”

“Burlesque allows me to express myself the way other art forms can’t”

“Since I came into burlesque, I have gotten nothing but love and many of the performers are willing to help me.”

“I have not noticed anything on the side of cliques or caddy groups.  Only respect and love.”

Ok.  Now I will say that it was eye opening to see the ‘type’ of person and performer that would make these statements.  Most of the ones who felt the business was just fine and very welcoming were those that fell into societies view of beautiful (not-too-ethnic, not-too-fat, classic, glamour).

As far as I am concerned, I have experienced both sides of the coin.  I have been welcomed by many greats in the business with welcome and open arms.  Advice being given to me without issues and playing it straight with me.  Then, I have also seen the support only go so far within the genres of burlesque style.

I love this art.  It is my passion.  It is my drive.  I support anyone who wants burlesque to go for it.  I DO NOT support those that are caddy and act as if THEY are burlesque.  Only a few of those exist and they damn sure they know but don’t act like it.  But burlesque should be a TRUE community.  Some of the women I spoke with became tearful because their feelings were hurt, they’re self worth was tested, and/or they just couldn’t understand some of the negativity that they experienced.  Things as simple as being excluded from a burlesque craft night or not being asked to perform because of a personal issue.

This same art that I love so much has also opened my eyes to many things that I was blinded to before.  Many enjoy walking with blinders on, that way they can live in their little world and and never deal with the real world and real world issues.

I respect those performers and producers that PURPOSELY try to include people of color, people of size, and queer entertainers.  They want a diverse and well rounded show.  They want an entertaining show with a good representation of all backgrounds.  I don’t believe in sacrificing good talent and skill just because they are a minority, but please, please, please include our sisters and brothers that have talent and that are also a minority.  Not to mention, speaking with guests of burlesque shows…many don’t want to see the same body type, the same style, and/or the same kind of performer in a show.  Most enjoy variety and want to get the most out of their money.  That means more then having the ‘token’ curvy girl or the ‘token’ black chick or the ‘token’ alternative show.  But really mixing it up to make everyone feel included.

There is enough burlesque to go around…



2 responses to “The Burlesque World:Ya-Ya Sisterhood or Mean Girls?

  1. Very interesting analysis! I’ve just started in burlesque here in Brisbane, and I found that (like you) there seems to be more of a community between styles; the glamour glitzy folk vs the more alternative punk weirdoes. Some people cross over and gain respect from all sides – for instance, my mentor Lena Marlene personally has a more punk rock style but she gets featured in the Burlesque Ball, which is more for the glitzy glamour high-class style, mainly because she’s been doing this for ages.

    As for things like being the token XYZ…there’s a lot of queer involvement in burlesque from either side so there’s not so much of a schism there. There isn’t a lot of ethnic diversity though – I’m probably the only Asian for MILES! So no point having a split there if it means me vs everyone else 😛 As for body types – there isn’t really a set one. A lot of thin & tiny (like you can pick them up and put them in your pocket small) but also quite a bit of voluptous and curvy. Bit of a mix.

    Then again, Brisbane burlesque is pretty tightknit and groovy; I’m feeling a lot of love!! I can’t really speak for the other Australian states; it might be different there.

  2. Giza Sangria

    I really enjoyed this entry, it was thought provoking and made me think about my own experiences.

    Before I started doing burlesque, I was a belly dancer for many years and as you concluded, the atmosphere is similar to any community made up of mostly females. In the belly dance community I was one of the youngest dancers, single, no kids, which was rare in the community and I found myself among many tight-knit cliques. It’s not that anyone was being overly unfriendly or rude to me, I just felt a little left out and unwelcome most of the time. Which was sad because I wanted friends in the community who understood my obsession, could give me advice and would sit next to me at shows- you know- I wanted to fit in! Slowly I made friends and once people got used to seeing me around I felt more welcome.
    Then there was a price to pay even for that- the cattiness, drama, gossip and backstabbing. As I wanted to no part in it, I withdrew from the community a ways. I still kept some of the friendships and kept a business relationship with a few other people but I think I’m much happier now- I have a troupe of dancers that does the best we can to keep that unhealthy crap out of our lives. Most of the time it works 😉
    When I started in with the burlesque community it seemed at first as though it would be a repeat of the belly dance scene. One show I did was terrible! However the rest of the shows have been amazing and I made friends quickly and feel very supported. I was so surprised! I really do think the burlesque community in my area is a supportive scene as a whole. I rarely hear complaints and stories of high-drama. Even if there is a falling out people make an effort to be professional, resolve the problems and work together.

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